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Where App Store Optimization Differs from SEO

App Store Optimization is a new field but highly important for anyone looking for App users

App store optimization is the emerging and dynamic practice of creating mobile app listings in the Google Play and Apple app stores for indexation, app visibility and conversion.

Because neither app store provides visibility to either their indexing or ranking algorithms, or store search data like daily volume, or volume by keyword/phrase - publishers, marketers and agencies have had to experiment and draw on experiences of others.

App store optimization is often compared to search engine optimization mostly because that’s what marketers know and it is a familiar reference.

But there are significant differences that we will explore that all lead to the same conclusions: app store search is different than web search.

If a mobile app publisher, marketer or agency is building an app listing targeting keywords and phrases that are reported to be relevant and high volume in Google’s Keyword planner - then they are optimizing their app store listing for web search not app store search.

Does targeting web search instead of app store search matter? How do people find apps to install and use?

How do users find and install mobile apps?

According to multiple reports from Nielsen and Forrester, 63% of mobile users reported using app store search to discover and install apps - the highest of any option. The second most frequent response for app discovery was “from friends and family”, which would likely lead to an app store search.

Mobile users are finding and installing mobile apps from searching the app stores.

Understanding the fundamental differences between how users search the app stores versus how (and why) they search the web is critical for building an app listing optimized for app store search traffic.

App Store Search differs from Web Search

The goal of an app listing is to optimize for discovery and conversion to app installs in the context of app store search.

The key difference between app store search and web search is user intent.

App Store vs Web Results

A quick search for “mall” in Apple’s App Store, and then again using Safari mobile web browser show very different results.

App Store / search: Different results

Apple and Google are clearly expecting that a mobile user searching the app stores expect one type of results, and a different set of results when searching the web, even if from the same mobile device.

We see these differences using App Store Intelligence software, software that focuses on the search behaviors of users in the app stores.

Relevant Phrases in App Store vs Web (via Google’s Keyword Planner)

Take a photo editing mobile app building a target keyword list for their App Store listing.

In Google’s Keyword Planner, related keywords and phrases to “edit photos” are:

Google Key Word Planner

While in app store intelligence software, we see the related keywords and phrases as:

App Store Keywords

If you are using keywords and phrases from Google’s Keyword Planner in your App title, keywords field and description, you are optimizing for the wrong search and missing out on search terms your apps’ target audience is using to search in the app stores - like “add text” or “photo effects”.

Specific Differences in User Intent

Both in search results and in relevant keywords and phrases, the differences are clear. But what about user intent is different?

Moz.com helps us break down web search user intent by creating three general categories that explain most web queries:

  1. “Do” Transactional Queries - Action queries
  2. “Know” Information Queries - When a user seeks information
  3. “Go” Navigational Queries - Queries that seek a particular online destination

App store search data falls into two very different categories:

  1. Feature-based phrases - the vast majority (80%) of app store searches are multi-word phrases about features
  2. Brands – brands that people are searching for

Relevant Search Coverage Beats Narrow Focus on High Volume Keywords

Not only is optimizing an app listing with keywords and phrases being used in the app stores important for discovery, relevant coverage is essential for converting an app’s targeted audience into installs and users.

Increased conversion rates result in more installs, a significant ranking factor in both Google’s and Apple’s app store ranking algorithms, signaling that an app is a relevant result for that specific search.

Google uses conversion rates in their web search ranking algorithms, and an increase in conversion rates among our clients’ portfolios has shown the same correlation to increased rankings in Google Play.

Consider an exercise app that has added badges to various running challenges - like running for three days in a row, new personal highs etc.

If they were to show in the results for “free runner game” conversion would likely be very low as “runner” is a style of game completely unrelated to running as a workout.

This would tell Google that the running app is not relevant for app store searches related to “free runner game”.

Runner vs Running

ASO runner Vs Running

Selecting what to optimize for ultimately means deciding how to use the limited space available in an app listing. Relevant coverage of app store search is the app store optimization strategy that leads to maximum discovery and conversion by an app’s target audience.

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